All I Do The Whole Day Through Is Dream Of Pie

I dreamt about a Scotch Egg last night. There is a small sandwich shop in Grimsby that makes the best I've ever tasted, especially if you get them still warm, straight out of the deep dat fryer. I bought it, ate it – slowly savouring the warm bread crumbs melt against the sausage meat – entered a temporary state of bliss, then woke up. If you didn't already know, I've spent the last four months working on a cruise ship in and around Brazil. It's been amazing; better than I could have imagined. Friendly officer's and crew, generous audiences, good musicians and technical staff. The Brazilians beach ports are idyllic and I've fallen in love with Buenos Aires. I keep telling everyone that I don't want it to end, but with just a few weeks to go, I've found a little stone in my shoe that won't go away. Yes, it will be great to see family and friends again, but do you know what I miss the most? Food.

I miss Marmite. On toast. Actually they do have Marmite here (I call it “my precious”) but a good piece of toast is another matter. I want a slice of crispy-browned, thickly-sliced, wholewheat bloomer dripping in butter. I'm sick of staring at mean soggy squares of anaemic carbohydrate, sapped of life after lounging under a heat lamp for 20 minutes.

I ache for a Yorkshire pudding. Gravy, roast lamb, mint sauce, parsnips, creamy mashed potatoes and a pint of London Pride on the side. Right now I'd give you my last Rolo for a spotted dick, but I don't have any Rolos, or Maltesers or Curly Wurlys.

Don't get me wrong, by and large the food on the ship is excellent (especially the sushi), and I've had some great meals in Buenos Aires: risottos, steaks, fancy pastas... but there are days I'd give my right arm for a chinese-takeaway-chicken-curry with chunky chips and free bag of prawn crackers.

Speaking of curry, I haven't had a decent rogan josh for months. Brazilians don't like spicy food and the one Indian restaurant in Buenos Aires I found seems to specialise in it's own particularly bland interpretation of Indian cuisine. I've had more spice in a tortilla chip. I want a barghi, some dhal, popadoms smeared with minty yoghurt and that red stuff I always regret afterwards.

As Sinatra sang, “It's very nice to go traveling but it's so much nicer to come home”. He missed the girls on 5th Avenue. I miss pie.

How to lose weight, look great and live a debt free life.

We all have our talents. Things we naturally gravitate to and find easy. For some it's languages, sports or maybe cooking. I've just read about a man in New York who managed to consume sixty-two hotdogs in ten minutes. Now that's a talent. Seeing a great artist sketch a portrait or a businessman turn a failing company around can leave us thinking, “I could never do that; it's easy for them, they're gifted”. There's a paradox here. Successful people make everything they do look effortless, but to make anything look easy takes a lot of hard work. Natural ability can take a person a long way but rarely is it enough to get them to the top. That takes self-belief, determination, dedication, and single-mindedness.

This is important stuff. In the absence of our own God given talent it's tempting to not bother trying at all. If we're honest, we're always looking for an excuse to avoid hard work.

Twenty years ago (I don't feel old enough to have done anything twenty years ago), running a small fire safety company, I realised I needed to learn how to sell. I'd never sold anything before. I had no one to teach me so I bought a set of audio tapes from a charity shop, studied them and got to work. I made myself a little script and telephoned my first “prospect”. The first goal was simply to arrange an appointment. Sounds easy, but I remember being so nervous that my hand was trembling and my palms sweating. I survived and made more calls, one hundred every week in fact. As you can imagine my confidence slowly grew. After around four hundred calls I'd heard and dealt with just about every possible response. I read books, booked myself on sales training days and listened to more tapes. After six months and over 2500 calls, I was getting pretty good. Years went by, the business grew and I was in a position to employ my own sales people. If they struggled to reach their targets they'd say it was easy for me (or anyone else meeting their targets) because we had “The gift of the gab”. They didn't care to see the hours we'd spent reading, practising and sweating! It was their excuse for not putting the effort in. They didn't want it badly enough.

The same thing happens now. I spent the best part of 2011 learning my act in Portuguese. It was something I wanted to do, but I knew it could be a challenge too far. To say languages are not my strong point is quite the understatement. In school my average test result in Spanish was 11%. The last seven months of 2011 were spent listening to the same short phrases over again and trying to memorise them. £100s spent on countless, tedious lessons trying to perfect my accent. In the car, the shower, walking down the street - over and over I'd practise the same few phrases. When I eventually performed the show, people said, “Lucky you, you've obviously got a knack for languages.” Go figure.

"I put weight on easily and love nothing more than an evening eating a tub of chocolate ice-cream and a bag of popcorn the size of a pillowcase"

The truth is we all want a shortcut to success. A miracle diet, learn a language in 7 days (really?), 8 minutes a day for perfect abs...

In our hearts we know it's nonsense but we we keep falling for it. The reality of hard work and self-sacrifice is just too depressing.

Want to know the secret to saving money and paying off your debts? Spend less.

The secret to stopping smoking? Stop smoking.

How about the secret to losing weight and feeling healthier? Eat less and exercise.

The real question is how much do we really want it? I mean, really want it?

I am in reasonable shape for my age. People just think I have a fast metabolism so I can eat anything and get away with it. Well I don't. I put weight on easily and love nothing more than an evening eating a tub of chocolate ice-cream and a bag of popcorn the size of a pillowcase. I'm not fat because I sweat my guts out at the gym every day. When they ask me for workout tips I say, “Put that pie down and go to the gym,” but that's not what they want to hear. They want to have their cake (or pie) and eat it.

So if you're lucky enough to be able to exploit your genetic advantage – good for you, but it won't win you many prizes. Real success comes to those of us with an average ability but a burning desire to succeed. So decide what you want, roll your sleeves up and get to work. If it's being able to eat more than sixty-two hotdogs in ten minutes, go for it, but please save one for me, I'm starving.

No Ball Games

Aside from sharing a tent with Jedward there is nothing more terrifying to me than being required to kick a football. My comprehensive and unfailing ineptitude at almost all ball games is staggering. I can't blame middle age – I've always been the same.

Even the most basic skill of throwing a ball to someone directly in front of me was more than I could ever muster. Whenever I played cricket at school I longed to be batting - the only task that excused me from having to throw or catch a ball. If I did happen to be fielding I'd be sure to stand as far away as possible to avoid the humiliation of trying to throw the ball back.

Little in adulthood compares to the pubescent shame of standing in a line waiting to be picked for a football team - and being the one that nobody wants.

While the pickers were strapping lads with premature facial hair, the body of talent from which they picked would soon thin out (was this what Darwin meant?) leaving just me and a quiet boy called Colin who never seemed to wash.

Finally being picked (grudgingly) would invariably mean the further humiliation of being "Skins". This required me and my teammates to remove our shirts so as to identify ourselves during the game. There are probably laws against that now.

I faired better in sports with no balls. Cross country running, the long jump, finger-knitting. Then I discovered golf. True, there is a ball involved but I was neither required to throw it nor catch it.

Armed with two-toned patent shoes, fetching Farrah slacks and a leather glove, I had found my calling. I played in County matches, persuaded the school to allow me to play golf instead of taking an English class (that explains a lot), and even briefly considered it as a career. Then I got a "proper" job and beyond going to work, doing work and coming home from work, so there was no time for golf or sports of any kind anymore. It's probably for the best - singing's far easier and I never have to take my shirt off.

My old ball phobias have never left me, though. Even today I dread walking past a group of fellas having a kick-about. If a stray ball should roll dangerously close my feet, I'm faced with a dilemma. Either I attempt a well meaning, but pitiful kick in the wrong direction, or it ignore it altogether and get called "wanker". I choose the later, every time. It's my little revenge for being left standing, with hope in my heart and never being picked for the team.

Sticking to your New Year's Resolutions

About to buy a home gym but worried it'll be on eBay in September? Thinking about spending £400 on learning Spanish even though you never even opened last year's guide on how to quit smoking? If you're starting the New Year with some resolutions that you intend to keep for more than a month, here's a bit of inspiration. An interviewer recently asked me for three words that best describe myself. I sensed a trap. "Dazzling, talented... modest?" What did they expect me to say? I'd like to think I'm pretty friendly and (usually) sociable, but above all else I know I'm lucky. Good things always seem to happen. But if you're serious about your resolutions, it's not enough to rely on good luck. Gary Player used to say, "The more I practise the luckier I get," and it's true. There's no short cut - hard work, focus and determination will see you reach your goals. When things don't work out and people blame fate, or say “It just wasn't meant to be,” they are just trying to let themselves off the hook by avoiding responsibility. In most cases they didn't reach their goals or failed in their New Year's resolutions because they didn't plan properly and didn't work hard enough.

I know, the thought of all that work is enough to put anyone off self-improvement and stay firmly in their comfort zone. It's natural to be wary of change and to take the path of least resistance. Have you ever gone to a party and only chatted to the people you arrived with? Gone back to the same holiday spot over and over because you know what you're going to get? Avoided the local street food because it might taste funny? All very safe, comfy and secure, but where's the growth and excitement?

Taking an all-in package holiday where you don't have to think about anything may be a good way to recharge your batteries but it won't enliven your senses like backpacking through India.

Making New Year's resolutions is a chance to better yourself and get the life you want, but watch out, to make any worthwhile changes you'll have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. As they say in Yorkshire, “Where there's muck there's money”.

If you want to learn a language this year, you're going to have to put the hours in. There's no getting away from it. Reading and practising 'present subjunctives' is a lot less fun than enjoying a few beers with your friends, but it's the only way you'll improve.

If one of your goals this year is to join a gym and loose some weight, be prepared - your friends, bless them, will be little help.

"Good luck," they'll tell you, "I give you three months till you give up."

"Don't pay your gym membership up front," they'll helpfully advise, "you'll hardly go after a few weeks."

And woe be tide if you do actually start to loose weight and manage to squeeze in to those fabulous jeans. "You look too thin! Enough is enough," they'll cry, when actually they just feel threatened that you look and feel better than they do.

With friends like these you'll need heaps of determination and an almost selfish, pig-headed streak. Or maybe just thinner friends...

One of my three words in that interview could have been belligerent. I like a challenge and don't worry too much what people think about me. I think that comes from being different as a child (a gay Jehovah's Witness no less) and getting used to being marginalised and treated differently. In a school of over 1000 kids I was the only one excluded from morning assemblies because as a Witness I wasn't allowed to sing the morning hymn. I remember being seven years old and desperate to make a paper Santa Claus with my friends, but no, my religion didn't allow that and I had to make something else instead. This isn't a sob story; in hindsight I am grateful for those experiences. In our search for acceptance most of us naturally want to blend in with our peers and be part of the group. I couldn't do that. I was forced to be different, to stand out. It's given me a fiercely independent nature and now I actually can't stand being the same as other people. If I see everyone walking in one direction I want to go the other way. So when my friends tell me I'm wasting my time with this or that, it just makes me want to do it all the more to prove them wrong. Yes, I can be a arse sometimes. Ask anyone.

If I am ever considering something that scares me, I know I should do it. As the book says, “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Taking risks and overcoming our fears is where fulfilment and growth lie. That said, I draw the line at the Macarena - there are limits.

Most people haven't got a clue what they want or where they are going. If you're lucky enough to know what you want out of 2012 here's a daily checklist for you:

  • Be bold, if you know what you want, go for it.
  • How do you eat an elephant? In small bites. Break big resolutions in to small achievable goals. It's easier to manage and bit by bit you'll get there.
  • Don't loose your focus. Record your progress and make sure you stay on track.
  • Things always change. If you're knocked off track just reevaluate and get back to work.
  • Great things require great effort. You'll have to make sacrifices, but they'll be worth it.
  • Avoid naysayers. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people.

 

I wish you an wonderful 2012 full of excitement, challenge and growth. Now if I could only be bothered to get dressed and go to the gym...

And The Rest Is History: Inspirational Inventor, Trevor Baylis

Continuing our peak the people who have inspired me the most, here's the story of a man who refused to take no for an answer. “As long as you've got slightly more perception than the average wrapped loaf, you could invent something,” a typically, no-nonsense piece of advice from wind-up radio guy, Trevor Baylis. He also said, “The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress.” True to his word, Trevor Baylis has always been a very unconventional thinker.

After completing his National Service as a physical instructor, Baylis combined his two loves, swimming and engineering, to sell free-standing swimming pools. Finding that sales increased when he “messed about” in the pools at exhibitions, he was spotted and hired as an underwater escape act for the Berlin Circus. Inspired by the plight of injured stunt performers in Berlin, he founded Orange Aids, became an inventor and created over 200 products to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Things didn't end well when he agreed to a less than equitable deal with a group of investors: “...there is only one person I blame for getting shafted, and that’s myself. I went into the deal which I thought would secure the future of Orange Aids with culpable impetuosity. I had been used to doing business on a handshake and my word of honour, and I made the error of actually believing what the men in the pin-striped suits told me.”

Years later, while watching a documentary about HIV and AIDS in Africa, he discovered a much grander potential for his life improving ideas.

Health education was critical to helping prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa. Radio was the key but electricity was scarce and batteries expensive. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway's wind-up gramophone player, he patented his prototype wind-up radio in 1991 and set out selling the idea to every company he could think of. They all turned him away. Experts from the Design Council told him his idea would be “unlikely to succeed.” Various engineering specialists wrote him off.

As the pile of rejection letters got higher, his skin got thicker. He said, “One of the most beautiful things that every happened to me was when I first fell in love with myself. I don't mind anybody looking down on me as long as they don't expect me to be looking up.”

His breakthrough came with the BBC World Service. They loved it. Television, awards, and worldwide recognition soon followed. In the end, though the Design Council said, “No”, Nelson Mandela said, “Yes”. Trevor Baylis has since been awarded eleven honorary degrees from UK universities, the World Vision Award for Development Initiative, and in 1997, the OBE.

Understandably, he's is weary of “suits”, especially pin-striped venture capitalists. He's been fobbed-off and ripped-off too many times to secure a deal on a good old-fashioned handshake.

“Nobody pays you for a good idea,” he says, “but they might pay you for a piece of paper that says you own that idea.”

His advice is simple: “Always follow your dreams, but make sure you patent them first.”

His most memorable quote (and there are plenty to choose from): “As they say: art is pleasure, invention is treasure, and this nation has got to recognise that. If they can spend a fortune on dead sheep and formaldehyde, then it can spend a bit more of that money on inventors.”

Obrigado Brasil!

 

Bem vindo ao meu site! Se você está lendo isto provavelmente já assistiu meu show no Splendour of the Seas. Eu gostaria de lhes agradecer por terem sido uma platéia incrível, e verdade - eu amo a cultura e o povo brasileiro. Por favor deixem um comentario sobre o show aqui, em português ou em inglês. Se tiverem fotos ou videos do show eu adoraria vê-los! Cliquem aqui para compartilhar-los em minha paginá no Facebook.

I have just finished my second season performing on Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas in Brazil. The show features a mixture of well known English standards and the hits of Louis Miguel, The Gipsy Kings and Roberto Carlos. Obviously, since it's a 100% Brazilian audience I had to learn all of my "chat" is in Portuguese. It was a real challenge last year, my first season, but 2013 was easier and we made some improvements to the show. If you've seen the show and want to leave a comment, please do so on this page. If you have photos or video you want to share, click here to visit my Facebook page - 'like' me and you can upload them there.

 

Risking A Heavenly Thunderbolt

After being raised as a churchgoer my faith was just a matter of fact. Until I hit my teens. Then I started to think for myself and the cracks began to show. Over the next decade, struggling with my instincts, I tried a dozen churches, read piles of books, and eventually came to realise that I don't believe in God after all. Risking a heavenly thunderbolt, I even said it out loud. Nothing happened. If there is a God I reckon he's pretty liberal minded. Like most people these days, I am respectful of everyone's right to believe in whatever they like and worship however they see fit. But most of all, I'm grateful for the astonishing diversity of art and architecture that the world's great religions have inspired.

As any traveller will attest, many of the worlUd's most inspiring sights are there to glorify the Gods: The Parthenon, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, Kyoto's Golden Temple, Rio's Christ The Redeemer, Barcelona's La Sagrada Família, St Petersburg's Church of the Spilled Blood, The Vatican and it's treasures, The Big Buddha at Lantau Island, Canterbury Cathedral and The Temple of Horus.

Best of all, you don't have to be a believer to enjoy them.

Then there's the paintings, sculptures and music. Can there be anything more soothing than a prayer chant? More moving than the Memorial to Princess Charlotte in Windsor's St George's Chapel? Or more thrilling than Sandi Patty belting out “How Great Thou Art”?

Just before leaving for Brazil I visited the home of the Anglian faith and the first cathedral to be built after the English Reformation, St Paul's. It's not just one of England's most impressive religious buildings it's an integral part of the nation's history.

After wading my way through the Occupy London protest camp, I entered just as Choral Evensong was about to start. I've never attended an Anglican service but this was the only way to get close to admire the magnificent altar and great dome. What a treat to listen to the choir, marvel at the art works and overwhelming grandeur of the place. I didn't sing the hymns or say the prayers but felt pleased to be a part of it all and touched that even an atheist like me was allowed to be there.

You hear a lot of people blame religion for wars and conflict, but let's not forget the remarkable ways our lives has been enriched by its glorification. Now there's something every one can believe in.

Your guide to being a boring festive fart.

I saw a bauble in Curry's today. Someone had secreted it between two cameras in a display case. A small thing with a portentous message: the festive season is coming - prepare to enjoy yourself. Soon, if we're “lucky”, our diaries will be crammed with parties. All that dancing, rich food and cheap booze. I feel sick already.

I went to a party last week. I managed ten minutes before leaving. I don't like dancing so I'm left shouting over JLS and Rihanna trying to have a conversation with someone I hardly know. Our only common interest is our lack of interest in each other.

If you've got a proper job you'll probably be subjected to the horrors of the annual office party. An event so cringeworthy we can only be grateful that, like a prostate examination, it only happens once a year.

Like a doomed family wedding that no one wants to attend, the 'work's do' brings together a disparate bunch of people with little in common. Where it not for pressure from the boss to attend and the enticement of free alcohol, they probably wouldn't even exist.

Other than stress and pay-cuts, the main topic of conversation is usually limited to who's shagging who, who wants to shag who, and who's shagged who. No wonder everyone gets drunk.

If do you survive till chucking out time, there are more delights in store. Fetid kebabs, queuing in the pissing rain for a taxi or the delights of the night bus. Maybe all three.

Eight hours later you wake up with a pounding head and a mouth like coconut matting. Facebook will be buzzing for days with “What a fantastic night it was,” as everyone agrees to, “Do it all again soon.”

As you'll gather, I am not a big fan of fun. At least not the kind to be summoned regardless of the circumstances. As Kitty, played by Patricia Routledge, said when asked if she likes fun, “No I don't! I had enough of that in 1976 when I got trapped inside a lift with a hula-hoop salesman.”

I about to celebrate my forty-first birthday so I'm officially allowed to be a boring old fart and not give a sugarcane candy stick what anyone thinks. I hope my memorable nights this holiday season will include some decent conversations with people I actually like, a few good meals around cosy dining tables, and plenty of laughs. Now, that's a holiday season I can actually look forward to.

Merry Christmas, everyone.